Public Private Sectors Collaborate on Cook County Transition Report
Cook County may face a budget gap as large as $487 million in FY 2011 (which began December 1, 2010), a sizeable amount given the County's $3.2 billion annual budget. To address the gap, elected officials must find 21 percent savings over the next three quarters. This winter, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle released her transition report, which was created with pro bono consultants and financial experts from the Civic Consulting Alliance. According to the Cook County blog, this "marked one of the very first times such a wide-ranging public and private collaboration was brought to bear on the difficult issues facing County government." The report, with the four key goals of fiscal responsibility, innovative leadership, transparency and accountability, and improved services, makes many recommendations that are supported within the Efficient Governance chapter of GO TO 2040.
One of the report's noteworthy recommendations is to investigate ending a so-called "tax subsidy" (in the range of tens of millions of dollars annually) to unincorporated areas. As unincorporated areas pay no municipal property tax, services like police and zoning regulation (which are typically provided by a municipality) are instead provided by the county government. The word "subsidy" is used because while all qualifying residents and businesses pay for county services via a county property tax, the county provides some select services only for unincorporated areas. Thus, the implication is that incorporated areas are paying for a portion of these services while not receiving them directly.
The county may seek either to establish service fees or to reclassify currently unincorporated areas. While these strategies are certainly worth exploring, other secondary impacts should be examined and brought to light. One of these would be the difference between the existing "tax subsidy" relative to the net future cost to municipalities if currently unincorporated land were to be added to their tax rolls. This is certainly a highly complex public policy issue that deserves serious attention moving forward.
The Daily Herald reported on this recommendation in February.